Titles by Georgian authors

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The Fantasy World /by Mamuka Kherkheulidze/

Size: 105x165 mm
Number of pages: 96
Copyright holder: "Arete"
Contact: Mamuka Kherkheulidze;
"Caucasian Chronicles" is a collection of four short stories describing Georgia in 1990s. Author gives us the documentary picture of the county just after the declaration of independence from Soviet Union. The reader feels that the author witnessed all events and knew personally all people described in the stories. However this documentary style is not dry at all, vice versa – the author can present even the small details in a very artistic way. Moreover – he can masterly show the humanistic nature of main characters, who appear in the turmoil of civil war, see the death of their enemies or struggle with themselves trying to give up with drugs.


Translated by Elizabeth Heighway


And these clans know of blood feuds, and if one clan kills, the
other will not rest from generation to generation for all eter-
nity until it kills in return, and the one who seeks revenge calls
 down to his murdered clansman in his grave, saying, "I have
killed your killer," and believes that in doing so he earns blessings
for himself.

—Vakhushti Batonishvili, historian, eighteenth century.

     In the hamlet where this story takes place, vengeance is one of the oldest traditions and is considered to be one of the community's most important values. A worthy man is one who has avenged the killing of his clan member. According to local custom, he should throw his hat onto the grave and call down into it, saying, "I have killed your killer!" There is a certain strange, brutal sense of honor in making the killer's family suffer; all the more so in the Caucasus, and in the mountains at that. Laws were brought into this region with fire and sword by an invading nation, but the people of the mountains refused to submit to these laws that the Russians imposed on them. They sought to live by their own traditional customs and laws, and to obtain justice the way their forefathers did: "If you should kill another then you too shall be killed; the clan will always make the killer pay," wrote Vazha-Pshavela. They may not cut off their enemy's hand and hang it on the door of the house any more, as in his poem, but . . .
     Even for me, the number of women who go around these parts dressed in the black of mourning with photos of the dead pinned to their chests like flowers seems remarkable.
     I say even for me because the hamlet is part of me—or rather, I am part of the hamlet. Batka was an artist—a wood carver. He carved figurines, fretwork, crosses, bowls . . . He was very skilled, able to turn his hand to anything. But I especially loved the delightful little characters he carved; they were so accurate, so realistic. We were the same age and from the moment we met we were friends— and straight away it felt as if I'd known him for a very long time. He was a tall, thin boy with a melancholic smile and the sophisticated moral code and principles of an adult man. The year the events of this story took place he was working on a sculpture of Don Quixote, and had decided that he himself would live like Don Quixote, against the backdrop of the Caucasus mountains.
     Batka's father had been killed by the famous outlaw Stalin Petre, who had earned this moniker thanks to both his ruthlessness and his appearance (a mustache, military tunic and boots). This devil of a man was responsible for the deaths of several others too and, needless to say, killing Stalin Petre was the primary goal of all the young men of the clan—apart from Batka. Before I understood what was going on I was always very surprised to find that people living in the hamlet would say hello to me but not Batka.
     "I'm not surprised at all," Batka once said to me. "I used to be in love with a girl in my class, but she gave in to pressure from her family and left me. They said if I wasn't even thinking about avenging my father's death then what kind of man would I grow into?" I knew the girl he meant; never could I have imagined that a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked slip of a thing like her could be caught up in a blood feud. And yet it was because of that very tradition that Batka's classmate refused to turn her back on her family. By the time I met Batka his father had already been dead a long time, and his mother was seriously ill and relied on him for help getting about. They lived in the center of the hamlet, almost right on the main square itself. The square was bordered by a crooked line of ugly administration  buildings, severe-looking fortresses which several times a day discharged streams of people who crisscrossed their way across their beloved town square, and whose aimless wanderings always ended up by the bubbling spring. In the evenings, though, the setting sun cast its light onto the peaks of the Caucasus with their ever-present covering of snow, giving them a reddish glow, and when dusk fell the throaty voices of people talking in the square became more distinct. Batka didn't like to talk about his father and Stalin Petre; it irritated him. I didn't insist, either—you could easily find out the truth anyway; among this strict people there are plenty with smooth tongues who love to tell stories.
     Stalin Petre had killed one of Batka's relatives, a peasant, over an ox. Apparently he loved oxen as much as he disliked people, and it was said he was almost affectionate toward them. The peasant refused to give Stalin Petre his favorite ox— why would he?—and what is more he went for his dagger, stubbornly stood his ground, got more and more angry . . . and before he could act on his anger three bullets hit him in the head. "His teeth were blown right back into his head"—that was the detail everyone emphasized. It was at the keening for this very man that Batka's father met his end. Because of heavy snowfall he went to the upper village at night. A long table had been set out in the yard, and weary guests who had traveled from far and wide were sharing Lenten food and vodka. Batka's father drank three glasses and poured  one into the ground in memory of the deceased—"May my blood be spilled like this if I fail to avenge this good man's honor!"—and suddenly, almost as if they had been waiting for his words, he heard shooting and screaming coming from the house where mourners  had gathered to lament over the body. Everybody leaped up, scattered in all directions, making all manner of excuses as to why they had to go. But Batka's father went toward the house with his gun in his hand. He began shooting from the veranda itself, although it was unclear why—whether he was just girding his loins or actually shooting at a specific target. Inside the room he found nobody but female mourners and the deceased himself. It later transpired that the women had tried to give him a warning sign but had not managed to do so in time—Stalin Petre crept up on him from behind. "Aha, got you!" he cried and fired three rounds from his Mauser. Batka's father fell face down onto the deceased's divan and died right there. Stalin Petre turned around, leaped onto his horse and galloped off, and nobody dared follow him, nor did it even occur to them to do so. "Who on earth would follow the devil in the dark?" they said, and told terrible tales of Petre's speed . . .
     The next day they brought  Batka's father back down to the hamlet on a sledge. Batka, who was eleven years old at that time, kissed his father's frozen, rigid face and split chin for the last time and committed the feel of his coarse mustache to memory. He could still remember the armed policemen who had spent the night in vigil over the deceased so that Petre wouldn't come (this awful man would burst into the funerals of his victims and shoot at the women's feet, shouting, "Dance!"). He also remembered the sound of stone and frozen earth raining down on the lid of the coffin, "almost as if it was being scattered onto my brain," he told me.
     After that Stalin Petre vanished from sight. That was what people had been waiting for—they were free to say what they liked: "They've seen Petre all over the place! They've even seen him in Dagestan and Kabardia!" . . . Batka was the only one who joked, "I don't know about Kabardia, but I did see him crossing the boundless skies astride an ox, like Europa crossing the seas . . ."
     Petre committed  his first murder  because of his sister. She was married and lived in a village some distance away, but one day arrived back at her brother's house badly beaten and with a black eye (in such situations the woman is always both beautiful and morally faultless) and said she would not go back to live with him anymore. At the time, Petre was building something out in the yard and right there and then he threw down his trowel, set square, and hammer, flung on a rifle, mounted  his horse and rode to his brother-in-law's village. It was morning. When Petre's brother- in-law came out for his morning wash expecting to feel the sun on his face, he instead felt the barrel of a rifle against his jaw. A shot rang out and the man fell face down into a pool of soapy water. Petre fled and on reaching the mountain pass realized he was now an outlaw. He hid in the forest and never went back home again. Time passed, and then the brother-in-law's relatives burned Petre's house down; by the time his neighbors got to it the wooden skeleton had completely collapsed. Among the glowing embers lay Petre's sister, unconscious and with badly burned legs. They pulled her out, tended to her, and revived her, but she never regained use of her legs and never spoke again.
     Now it was Petre's turn. He set up camp in the forest near the village where his brother-in-law's brother lived. From there he watched. He knew a man from the village would have to come into the forest sooner or later. And so it was that two weeks later the man came to check on his livestock—he stroked his beloved oxen, scratched the neck of his favorite white ox, whispered enigmatically in its ear. Petre knew how to choose his moment—his rifle roared, boulders thundered,  the bloody-headed man collapsed over the neck of his favorite ox, soiled it with his blood and fell at the startled beast's feet. Stalin Petre rolled the corpse away with his foot, led the beast to water, and washed it clean of blood.
     From there he went back to his native village and to his sister, who was mostly recovered. He wrapped her in a thick felt cloak, tied her to the saddle with rope and took her away with him. From then on he moved from one hiding place to the next, taking with him his severely injured sister, who had either lost the power of speech or pledged to God a vow of silence, nobody knows; but she certainly could not move her legs . . .
     Batka could even remember his room, a scene of eternal mourning. In a lifeless, gray-white room hung an enlarged black-and-white photograph of his father.
     In the photo you could see the father's regret for crimes he had not had time to commit. Batka spent the whole of his childhood with this photograph and an iron bed. His father's belt, dagger, and pistol had been specially laid out on the bed right next to his ironed clothes. Only after his killing had been avenged would these items be put away and kept with the deceased's other effects in the coffinlike sideboard. As soon as he grew up the boy brought this room to life, put more things in it, dismantled the iron bed and took it and the sideboard downstairs to the large room where his mother slept. He decorated the room with drawings, figurines, book- shelves, and an old rug. His mother never berated him for it, she just said to him, "You'll find it hard without our traditions . . ."
     Not all traditions  are necessarily good, Batka had told her. A mother  is a mother,  of course, the one person  who understands  everything, but their relatives and neighbors no longer paid him any attention unless they needed something from him, they no longer really acknowledged him at all or even exchanged greetings with him. But he could turn his hand to anything and was an industrious worker. His artist friend from Tbilisi first took his wood carvings back to the city with him after he had visited the boy's house and found his handiwork to be to his liking. Foreign tourists, mountaineers, artists, and craftsmen from the city who visited the hamlet would stay with him. Guests also made good use of Batka's books; he had a very good library, which was unusual in that region . . .
     Early that morning he woke before sunrise. It was spring, and it was cold. He quickly put on his winter clothes and went outside. The roosters were already strutting around and he could hear the sound of hatchets striking wood—the village was waking up. He went downstairs to the first floor, picked up some wood in one hand  from the pile by the stairs, reached down for the hatchet with the other hand, and opened the door with his foot. It was dark in the one-window room and the only light came from the candle flickering by his mother's bed. He could just about make out his mother's dried-up, veiny hand, like a fragment of a fresco.
     "Good morning," his mother greeted him; she probably smiled at him too, but her face was not visible through the darkness and it seemed as if her hand were talking.
     "How are you today?" he said, and squatted by the fire.
     "How am I today? What a question. I want to get up . . ." said the hand. "I'm just lighting the fire now," he said, and skillfully and silently chopped the firewood with the hatchet into fine pieces. He arranged it in the rusty, cold stove, lit the fire and put the iron bolt across. Then he blew on it from below and the ancient stove roared to life (in all my travels I've never seen anyone light a fire in such a spellbinding way). "Stand up," he said, and held his hand out to his mother. The woman leaned on her own emaciated arm and stood up groaning. "Now she'll start," the boy thought. And she did: "May their people become as thin as this arm . . ." Batka had been hearing this one-woman lament for twenty years. The script never changed—it was carved in stone. Unavenged blood, a man to carry on the family line, that accursed Stalin Petre . . . Batka didn't even listen anymore, he knew the whole lament off by heart, and every possible variation on the curses. But sometimes he got a lump in his throat nonetheless, and was overcome by grief at his mother's words and the tears that were shed during his child- hood, that he had not been able to stem by getting revenge. At such times even he felt these blood feud killings were justified, although these moments of weakness were fleeting, and he would then feel ashamed of his own thinking and feel afraid—"I haven't gone mad, have I?" Such instances were very rare, though, because in truth he knew he could not kill a man.
     The sunlight was already filtering into the room. Batka sat his mother in the armchair by the stove, took his unfinished carvings off the table, and went outside. Once in the yard he settled himself down in the shade on his usual tree stump and set to work. "Batka, you mournful knight, this will be your self-portrait, at least Kherkheulidze will say it looks like you . . ." he laughed.
     The church bell tolled. The square filled with people, on their own or in groups. Suddenly, there was a rumbling noise in the distance. A truck pulled in and everyone rushed toward the police station—something important was happening. Batka put his carving down onto the tree stump and joined the crowd. A policeman in military uniform was struggling to open up the back of the truck—the rusty lock would not give. There was silence in the square, only broken by the sound of the scraping lock and the policeman's grunting. Finally the lock opened and the truck's wooden hatch fell open with a terrible clatter. In the back of the truck lay an unshaven corpse. The onlookers became agitated, crowded around and pushed forward. A second policeman got up onto the back of the truck, and the two of them grabbed the corpse, dressed in a military tunic, and threw it straight onto the ground. Batka didn't understand  what was happening, he forced his way through the crowd and stared at the dead man. Stalin Petre was not wearing boots; blowflies swarmed around  his muddy, blood-caked legs; and he was dressed in filthy old clothes. His toothless mouth hung open and blowflies swarmed around that, too. His matted white hair was caked with blood and soil. Somebody had closed the corpse's eyes so that none could now read what was frozen within them for all eternity, what was hidden behind his eyelids—fear, curses, or repentance. It was Stalin Petre, elusive bandit and murderer made legend. Mothers used this man's name to scare their children, he brought  misery to numerous families and re- awakened the desire for revenge in so many young people, turning them into frustrated would-be killers . . .
     The policemen carried the body toward the building and left it by the wall. This was an old custom—it would lie there until it started to decompose, so that everyone would see with their own eyes what happened to outlaws and criminals. All at once Batka hated this community and his Dulcinea—everyone, in fact, who had asked for or wanted this man to be put in this position.
     The crowd started to disperse; Petre had been killed, the bloody comedy was over. Batka went back home, tired, drained, called out to his mother—
     "They've killed Petre!"—and sat down next to the carvings he'd left on the tree stump.
     "The man must have relatives . . . May they steal him in the night and bury him quietly—or I will myself. If people see where he's buried they'll dig him up and leave him for the pigs to eat. And whatever happened to that girl, I wonder? Where does all this leave the poor cripple?" thought  the young man who lived in one of the highest, most traditional regions of the Caucasus, where they do not cut off the murderer's right hand anymore, but . . .


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